Saturday, 20 September 2008

So who are the ordinary people?

Jersey is undoubtedly an island of deep social divisions and stratifications. Large minorities of the population have English, Scottish or Irish ethnicity. Many more feel themselves to be of French or specifically Breton descent. There is a substantial Portuguese community, a small but close-knit Italian community and a growing number of Poles and other Eastern Europeans. And those are not all that you will see amongst the cosmopolitan crowd thronging through St Helier. However, Jersey is not a melting pot. The mix remains lumpy, with the various groups reluctant to mingle more than they have to.
In such a fragmented society, the other stratifications of wealth and status cut deeper than they might otherwise. There are quite a lot of very rich people indeed here, many of whom hold a great deal of power, whether by public office or private influence. And there are an army of struggling workers, clerks and tradesmen and, below them, a growing underclass. That army is now beginning to mobilise, to fight for their rights, as the realisation grows that they have been sold short by those above them, since time immemorial.
To fight an enemy, however, one must identify him. In the broken shards of our fractured island, it is all too easy to misidentify other pieces of the divided and ruled middle and working classes as the ones who are spoiling it all for everyone. Talk to some people, and the bogeymen are the vast ranks of civil servants and public sector manual workers, taking huge sums of the poor taxpayers' money to lean on their desk or shovel drinking coffee all day long. Not that they have convinced me that that is true. Most of the high earners in the public sector are the professionals that would soon be missed, such as doctors, nurses and teachers. The clerks and manual workers are no richer than anyone else. So, by and large, except for the mandarin caste of a few dozen over-paid, over-powerful upper managers, the public sector are “us”, not “them”.
For many more people, the enemy are the fat-cat finance workers. Admittedly, a proportion of them do bring resentment upon themselves with crass “considerably richer than you” ostentation. Look at the statistics, however. Fully one quarter of Jersey's workforce are directly employed in the finance industry, far more than any other sector. That makes them the most typical workers of all, thus the ranters who would distinguish between “finance” and “the ordinary people” are deluded; they are most certainly “us”, not “them”. Moreover, for the three-quarters outside finance, they are the customer base that keep the other jobs viable. Even if some of us have difficulty in actually being proud of snooty people helping dodgy foreign businessmen pull off scams and shams to cheat their taxmen, the money in our pockets was mostly originally captured by them, and if we turn on them, we turn on ourselves, too.
Should we blame it all on the Portuguese and Poles taking all the jobs, then? No. They always go to the back of the queue for the good jobs, and are mainly employed in the menial jobs that locals no longer need to bother with. After a few years, they tend to have children and become part of the community, just like everyone else, except treated worse. They are certainly not “them”, and we should perhaps be more willing to accept them as part of “us”.
In fact, when one looks closely, we are nearly all the ordinary people of Jersey, and we need to think about the paradox that, in election after election, we keep returning politicians who represent a parasitic elite prizing self-enrichment above their citizens' quality of life. Look at the twenty-one standing for the six Senatorial seats in the October 08 elections: there are the usual selection of well-heeled right-wingers waiting to lord it over us, but there are plenty of others firmly rooted in the real world, some of whom are clever enough and serious enough to make a good job of running the island. If you are a voter, choose carefully, this time.


The Moving Finger said...

It is very refreshing to see the Portuguese and Poles not being slagged off.They have a valid and important contribution to the island community.

No doubt, I will be accused of being JDA as well as Time 4 Change after this comment!
The fact is that I stand against injustice!

TonyTheProf said...

I think what certainly helps make people disgruntled are headlines in the JEP about "average wage up to £xxx", when lots of people who read it are well below that. The median is obviously much lower. This kind of sloppy reporting breeds resentment, not all of it unjustified.

Clearly there must be some "fat cats" pushing up the average, but not all finance. Stephen Izzard, of WEB, who if he is on the same salary as his predecessor gets around £180,000 per annum - for doing something! (it's in the published accounts)